The Telegraph – Tribal leaders and militia commanders in eastern Libya declared the formation of a semi-autonomous region, raising fears that the country is witnessing the first stages of disintegration just six months after the fall of Col Muammar Gaddafi. A conference of about 3,000 delegates in Benghazi installed Ahmed al-Senussi, a great nephew of Libya’s former king, as head of the new Cyrenaica Provincial Council.
It proposed that an eastern region should run its own affairs apart from foreign policy, the national army and oil resources, which would be left to a federal government in Tripoli.
The province would cover nearly half the country, from central Libya to the Egyptian border in the east and down to the borders with Chad and Sudan in the south.
The announcement aimed to present a federal system as a fait accompli before the struggling National Transitional Council in Tripoli.
The goal is to revive the system in place after the Second World War under King Idris, when Libya was divided into three states: Tripolitania in the west, Fezzan in the southwest and Cyrenaica – or Barqa, as it was called in Arabic – to the east.
As the monarch’s power base, Cyrenaica enjoyed kudos and influence that was very largely lost during Col Gaddafi’s 42-year rule.
The east was the cradle of last year’s rebellion against the late dictator but complaints that it has been sidelined have grown more vocal since his removal from power.
It is not clear what activities if any the council will undertake soon, but Mohammed Buisier, one of the main organisers, said that he had contacted “the people in Tripoli” and told them “come here and negotiate”.
He added: “We are not going to give anyone a blank cheque.”
The NTC has repeatedly voiced its opposition to the creation of a partly autonomous eastern region, warning it could eventually lead to the break-up of the north African nation of six million.
“This is very dangerous. This is a blatant call for fragmentation. We reject it in its entirety,” said Fathi Baja, the head of political committee of the NTC. “We are against divisions and against any move that hurts the unity of the Libyan people.”
The declaration underscored the weakness of the NTC. It holds little sway even in Tripoli, where militias that arose during the anti-Gaddafi revolt have divided neighbourhoods up into fiefdoms.
The prime minister of the interim government created by the NTC, Abdel-Rahim el-Keib, admitted earlier this week that the new government was not performing up to the task.
“My evaluation of its performance is not good,” he said in an interview on state television. “The steps we are taking are slow.”
The NTC has called for national elections in June to select a 200-member assembly that would name a prime minister to form a government and then write a constitution.
Rejecting that plan, the Benghazi conference appointed King Idris’s descendant Ahmed al-Senussi, Libya’s longest serving political prisoner under Col Gaddafi, as leader of the planned governing council. He is also a member of the NTC, which contains many representatives of the Benghazi region.
Other attendees included leaders of heavyweight tribes of the eastern region, including the Ubaidat, Mughariba and Awajeer, defence ministry officials and commanders from the Barqa Army, a grouping of 61 eastern “revolutionary militias”.